My friend, Chris Walton, and I went to Vegas this weekend. Our goal was to get up really early on Friday morning and climb the North loop trail of Mt Charleston. The round trip is 20 miles and you start around 8200ft and climb 4000ft to the summit over 12000ft.
Unfortunately, our plan did not go as we intended. The trail heads West around Mummy Mountain and up it’s West side to line up for the approach on Charleston. At the first intersection of the trail we went right rather than left. On our way back we took a picture of where we went wrong (below). There is a very visible trail to the right but the North Loop trail actually goes left over the hump. There is a sign, but unfortunately it’s on the ground mixed in with some dead branches. When we saw where we went wrong, we felt better that we weren’t complete idiots, but we won’t make that mistake again.
The trail we took started climbing steeply up the mountain. We gained about 1000ft in a very short period of time. Once we reached the top, we knew that we were off track but were looking for ways to rejoin the trail without going backwards. We wandered around on the ridge for a while looking for a spot to get down until we found a group of guys that told us how to get to the Mummy Mountain summit and the route from there to the Charleston summit.
The route they told us was to climb the 2nd avalanche chute where we could scrabble to the peak. We saw the guys following us once we reached the top of the chute and we let them know that their instructions were incorrect since we weren’t on the summit and there was no easy way down. We were at a notch in the top of the ridge with sheer 50ft cliffs on both sides and a very, very steep chute off the other side (picture below – notch is circled).
Traversing a chute can be fun, but it’s also really dangerous since you don’t know how steep it will get and you don’t know where the chute will dead end at too steep of cliff to go over. This would have caused us to climb back up and over the ridge which wouldn’t be a lot of fun. The chute was steep but it was full of scree so we could “surf” on the way down. All was going well and we’d dropped about 800ft to 10500ft when we hit a wall about 25ft tall that required some down climbing.
The picture above is what it looked like from the top of the climb. Walton went first and nimbly shuffled down the face. When climbing with ropes, I’m completely comfortable doing sketchy thing, but dropping 25ft on a sheer face without any safety gear had me unnerved. Walton patiently talked me through the maneuver and I made it down unscathed. After the wall, we continued to drop down the chute with only a few detours to move around ledges, until we finally reached the trail. We decided that we’d had enough and started heading back down the trail we should have been on in the first place. In a few minutes, we came to trail junction which is the 4 mile mark back to the trailhead. Walton is pointing to the chute that we came down below- we dropped over 2000ft in that chute. We pressed on and finally made it back to the road. At the road we were met by a herd of wild horses that were using the road as their trail.
We haven’t downloaded our watches yet to get the actually mapped distances, but we think we climbed about 6000ft over 12 miles. In total, we were out for 8 and half hours. It was a good day, but we will be back soon to successfully summit via the North Trail.